ctnewsjunkie file photo
Osborn Correctional Institute (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

The state Department of Correction completed its first round of coronavirus testing of its staff and inmates and found it had a 9% positive rate. The infection rate would not have been obvious, however, as all but two of the inmates who tested positive showed no symptoms of COVID-19.

The state tested 9,504 inmates across 14 facilities and found 832 were positive. The mass testing began on May 13 and concluded on June 25 and does not include 510 inmates who had previously contracted the virus prior to the start of the mass testing.

Only two of the inmates who tested positive during the mass testing period showed symptoms of the virus, according to the DOC. The remaining 830 who tested positive stayed asymptomatic throughout the 14-day isolation and monitoring period. 

This week, the agency will reoffer testing to the approximately 440 prisoners who previously opted out.

Only three inmates are recuperating now from coronavirus-related symptoms.  The mass testing results do not include the 510 inmates who had contracted the virus prior to the start of the mass testing.
Since March, 380 DOC employees have tested positive for the virus – all but three of them have since recovered and returned to work. No DOC staffer has tested positive since May 28, according to the agency.

Seven inmates have died from the virus. 

Earlier this month, the state settled a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Connecticut challenging its treatment of medically fragile inmates. Under the settlement, those inmates will be released to halfway houses or their families depending upon the situation. Those who remain will be allowed to shower even if they have tested positive.

DOC and state officials have drawn fire from families of inmates and the unions representing employees for the way the agency is handling the public health crisis. At one point, the DOC was denying indoor showers to inmates in quarantine and didn’t let inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 shower while they were being held in isolation at Northern Correctional Institution. Unions representing correction officers and other employees have been vocal about misguided protocols that they alleged place staff and inmates in greater danger, including requiring non-essential staff to remain in the facilities full-time.

Two weeks ago, medical staff at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers protested staffing shortages.

The entire state DOC has been running with a severe shortage of healthcare employees, including nurses, for nearly two years, Nat Roosa, an organizer with the union which represents 600 healthcare workers employed by the DOC, has said.

The agency hired a total of 138 healthcare workers in the past year –  but several positions opened up in the same time frame due to retirements. Healthcare workers are among the highest-paid employees at the DOC due to the amount of overtime they work, according to the state comptroller’s OpenPayroll website.

The agency was down at least 150 healthcare workers last year, according to information supplied to the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican caucus. The union estimated that the DOC actually needed 250 hires to fill all vacant healthcare positions.